After banning almost all Virginia law enforcement from using facial recognition in 2021, this week the General Assembly passed a bill to allow local law enforcement to use the technology, with some restrictions. The legislation passed out of both chambers with broad bipartisan support, but also with broad bipartisan opposition.
“It can be used to help identify other people who might be witnesses or involved in crimes. It will also help identify people who are unconscious or dead, that don’t have ID on them, maybe people who have dementia or are wandering around,” sponsor State Senator Scott Surovell (D-Fairfax) told The Virginia Star.
“We currently have an inconsistent patchwork of laws on this. Last year, we passed the ban on local and campus police usage, but we did not pass a prohibition on the State Police using the technology, which means that local police or campus police could simply call the State Police to use the technology,” he said.
State Senator Ryan McDougle (R-Hanover) opposed the bill. He told The Star, “My concern is the way it’s written. It gives almost carte blanche to law enforcement to deploy facial recognition. I think it should be much more restrictive. It is the use of biometric information about the individual person, and we should be very concerned about how to use it in limited but important directions.”
Surovell said the current process has no transparency, restrictions, or reporting on the uses by the State Police.
“This creates way more standards, guardrails, transparency, and clarity about what’s allowed and what isn’t. It gives the public an opportunity to see what law enforcement is doing with it,” Surovell said.
The bill requires that technology providers have a 98 percent accuracy rate, requires the collection of data on use, and bans real-time use.
“This bill explicitly prohibits real-time monitoring or surveillance, which there’s zero restriction under current law against,” Surovell said. “The typical application of this, I think, would be a detective takes a picture of a suspect or screenshot from a surveillance camera like at an ATM or something and puts it in the application back in the police station to see what they can learn.”
McDougle said the legislature should have taken more time to develop the law.
“One basic piece is it should require a search warrant and penalties,” McDougle said.
He said fines for misuse aren’t high enough.
“So if somebody decides to look up their child’s boyfriend or girlfriend or neighbor that they don’t like, it is not a very high penalty and the ability to abuse it is substantial,” McDougle said.
He said, “We don’t just get your fingerprints. We don’t just draw your blood. There has to be a particular procedure that you have to go through. We don’t just get your DNA. This is your biometric information you carry with you, just like you do those other things and we did not put stringent requirements like a search warrant in place.”
Virginia Association of Chiefs of Police Executive Director Dana Schrad told The Star that there aren’t privacy concerns associated with the legislation.
“We support the legislation. The use of the technology is very limited to active criminal investigations and the results of the use of facial recognition is not admissible in court,” Schrad said.
– – –